Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jesuit theologian dismissed from the Catholic University of Chile

Mons. Ricardo Ezzati, Cardinal of Santiago, Chile, has dismissed Jesuit theologian Jorge Costadoat Carrasco, SJ, from his teaching position on the theological faculty of the Catholic University of Chile. Fr. Costadoat had been serving as director of the university's Centro Teológico Manuel Larraín and as an assistant professor of theology. He had taught there for over 20 years and had good student evaluations. Ezzati's decision to terminate Fr. Costadoat was even opposed by the school's own dean, Fredy Parra, who met with the cardinal in an attempt to dissuade him from the action.

While Fr. Costadoat is known for his progressive views on morality issues, often at odds with official Church teaching, an extensive communique from the Centro de Estudiantes de Teología at the university says that: "Professor Costadoat was told that the non-renewal [of his teaching license] was due to the tension Monseñor Ezzati acknowledge between two freedoms -- the professor's own freedom to teach and the freedom of the Faculty to allow him to keep teaching...It was stressed to the professor that this decision wasn't a sanction or a condemnation, since there exists no sort of doctrinal questioning. Rather, it was suggested that this decision was moved by seeking what was best for the professor himself and the exercise of his academic freedom, which is why it was recommended that he continue to do teaching and research in some other theological center."

The student group's assertion is contradicted, however, by other media reports which claim to have seen a memo from the cardinal to the faculty explaining the reasons for Fr. Costadoat's dismissal: "The academic career of Professor Costadoat records unwise statements that blur the magisterial teaching of the Church on various key points of the same, generating sufficient reasons to believe that he has not based his positions sufficiently on the basic principle that 'the theological disciplines, in the light of faith and under the guidance of the magisterium of the Church, should be so taught that the students will correctly draw out Catholic doctrine from divine revelation.'"

This second version, with its citation from Optatam Totius (16)  is more likely given Cardinal Ezzati's history with progressive Jesuits in the Chilean province of the order. Last Fall, the Cardinal tangled with three other priests -- Felipe Berríos, Mariano Puga and José Aldunate -- over their public statements, specifically Puga's assertion that "the Church, instead of being the one to destroy the concept of class, strengthens it -- some schools for the poor, others for the indigenous, others for the upper class" and Aldunate's support for gay marriage and declaration that the Church's position on that issue is antiquated. Berríos has also accused the Chilean Catholic Church of classism and was temporarily banished to Africa for his public denunciations.

Reflexión y Liberación, for which Fr. Costadoat has frequently written, has published a public statement of support for the academic, saying: "We want a Church with open procedures, subject to reason and justice. Therefore we are showing our support and gratitude to Fr. Jorge Costadoat, SJ, for his dedicated theological work. He is an excellent academic who combines erudition and piety. As a theologian of the signs of the times, he has built bridges for better dialogue between the Church and the world, between faith and science and culture."

And Fr. Costadoat has simply responded with his own thoughts about academic freedom and what it means to be a Catholic university, published March 24, 2015 on Reflexión y Liberación:

Catholicity of individuals or the university?

"What's Catholic" creates problems in the university environment. When the mission of a university is confused with the demands of the Christian religion, it is the very catholicity of universities which ends up being discredited. But "what's Catholic" can effectively contribute to the search for truth, purpose and meaning of all universities. It can, when faith and reason are properly articulated in the "Catholic ones".

When the catholicity of a university is made to depend on its students' and, above all, its professors' religious affiliation or devotion, the university sickens. I will mention three pathologies. Two typical ones -- simulation and exclusion. Most immediately, the religious invocation of "what's Catholic" can generate exclusion. Academics in universities who are afraid of being looked at askance -- or who actually are -- because they don't believe in God, aren't Christians, have another creed, or aren't up to the doctrine of the institution, have commented on this. For example, there are people who fear not getting appointed if they separate or, even worse, if they marry again. In the "Catholic ones", it also happens that academics wear their Catholicism to ingratiate themselves with the establishment. This simulation is painful, but it also rarefies the relationships between people, creates suspicion, generates nastiness.

In my opinion, these diseases affect the catholicity of Catholic universities because they pollute their mission. A university cannot be Catholic if the free exercise of reason, without which it is impossible to achieve social justice and peace -- the ultimate objective of the university's task in society -- is not encouraged.

The main Church document on the subject notes that the mission of every university is the quest for truth (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 30). Catholic universities, in this respect, should not invoke any privileged title. By doing so, they would infringe on their own theological assurance: the Church believes that the Father of Jesus Christ is the Creator of human reason, reason that all people enjoy irrespective of creed. Hence Catholic universities should understand that, according to Christian faith itself, their quest for truth is no better or worse than others', but that it is characterized by emphasizing the need for dialogue and love of humanity itself, which is achieved through an appreciation of cultural diversity and subject to the methods that science offers with no harm to anyone. Christian universities, therefore, should be spaces for that freedom of thought which is enabled by a clear distinction between the planes of faith and reason that, paradoxically, clears the way for a convergence of the two. In these universities, Catholics should not seek to find the truth without non-Catholics. It would constitute a "sin" against the Creator of both.

Where there is lack of freedom, it is hard to study, think, dialogue, and teach. For this reason, respect for  conscience and scientific inquiry, particularly through an institutional framework capable of correcting any abuse, is a condition for finding that truth which is only such when, by the same token, it liberates the potential of all and urges a commitment to all, especially those who have no one to do research for them.

That's why I will mention a third disease. The worst of all. In our environment, the alliance between academia and the private sector should be open to an understanding of the humanly broader, more humanizing truth that this only serves to feed capitalism. When, however, this alliance is sealed with the help of a pious and narrow Catholicism, social injustice becomes uncounterable. Individual interests then prevail over the common good, and the preferential option for the poor that should distinguish the "Catholic ones" gives way to the training of the privileged as usual.

A university is truly Catholic when, in it, the Christian faith promotes freedom of thought and commitment to including those excluded or stigmatized by their creed or life.

Jorge Costadoat, SJ
Christ under Construction

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